Friday, November 03, 2006


Having just arrived home from Tucson, I have several trivial reports and one substantive one to make, and the clock in the eastern zone is approaching midnight.

One: Continental Airlines continues to get me from Newark to Tucson and back (and also from Newark to L.A.), at a fare that discourages competitors on the route (about $350 round trip, Tucson), while providing pretty good service and even on occasion a mileage upgrade to first class. While I think they should lose the "hot cheese pizza" served in coach -- I defy anyone to cite a worse pizza, and bad pizza is quite a universe -- Continental does nevertheless serve food in coach, and with a salad, and the flight attendants seem happy to see you. Yes, Newark is one of Continental's "fortress" hubs, but fine: I remain inside the fort.

This is being written late, just a little update. I have already mentioned my new favorite Brazilian Web site, the uproarious, sometimes smart, sometimes batty online magazine, where the headlines currently list the following: "RIO CELEBRATES NUDITY AND BRAZIL PREPARES TO GET NUDISTS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD," followed two down in ths list by "BRAZIL ADMMITS 'IMPRECISION' BUT DOESN'T EXONERATE U.S. PILOTS FROM BLAME." More on the imprecision tomorrow.

MEANWHILE, The following was written earlier, at dawn on Friday, as I was leaving Tucson to return home:

I'm always sad to leave our Tucson hideaway but glad to be going home, and that's the feeling now with the rising sun just outlining the Rincons. This is a good place to work and clear the head in the Sonoran desert, but it's time to go home.

My wife was here for a week but then had to go L.A. 10 days ago for a business trip, and then home.

I am not meant to live alone. I've found that after about five days of it, the hour of the day during which I shave gets later and then starts lapping over to the next morning.

The degree of civil politeness is impressive in Tucson, a town that still retains a western culture while Phoenix and its suburbs strive to become Brentwood.

I mean, men hold doors for other men here. People behind the counter at stores are invariably friendly. But after about seven days alone, I realize that I'm conversing just a little too long with, say, a young woman at the convenience store counter. Fifteen seconds is the accepted norm, and I find myself hitting 30 seconds and see her looking just a bit apprehensive.

The first few days alone, I barbeque dinner and whip up a nice salad. Last night, I bought Raman Noodles at Walgreen's and had them for dinner and washed the container for future use.

Yes, it is time to head for the airport. Luckily, the Tucson Airport has not yet even heard of the word hassle. Even the security people seem glad to see you and help move you along.

I am, though, glad that I am not traveling in Brazil today, because flights have been a mess -- delays of 20 hours have been reported during a big extended holiday travel week (All Souls Day is a big holiday, go figure).

My new favorite online magazine, the always engaging, energetic, and occasionally batty, reports this morning that Brazilian air traffic controllers are being forced to work overtime to help with the current mess. The controllers say "they're being kept as prisoners" and forced to stay overnight at air-traffic control centers without being able to go home.

The controller shortage is exacerbated by the fact that 10 controllers from Brasilia and Manaus called in sick en masse on Monday after being summoned to testify in the interminable secret investigation being conducted by police and military authorities into the Sept. 29 mid-air collision over the Amazon between a 737 and a corporate jet, in which the 154 people on the 737 were killed.

The controllers said they were under psychiatric treatment and unable to testify till at least mid-November.

A few days later, a big Sao Paulo newspaper printed a story that said the two American pilots of the corporate jet, who are still being held in Brazil, were correct in their insistence -- reported here from Day One -- that they had been ordered by air traffic control to fly at 37,000 feet all the eway to Manaus. This is exactly the altitude air traffic control had the 737 on, in the opposite direction, when the two planes collided over one of the most desolate stretches of the Amazon. The badly damaged corporate jet made an emergency landing, but its pilots and five passengers were uninjured.

Air traffic control in Brazil is run by the same military conducting the investigation into the crash, so you can see that forces other than holiday traffic are at work here.

According to a spokesman for the Brazil Flight Controllers Association, 80 controllers are now being kept in their control centers as "prisoners" and threatened with courts-martial if they leave before the holiday period ends Sunday.

"If they are court-martialled, they lose their rights," he said.

That's 80 controllers protesting about being detained. And oh, I almost forgot, there are also the two American pilots, detained in Brazil without charges since the crash.

So let's do that math and make that 82, then.

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